Episode 1

Inn the days of long ago, when Story was stronger and Reality was optional, a young man and an old horse arrived at a woodland glade in which was a Portacottage with a thatched roof. He knocked at the door, which was opened by an irritable female with blue skin.

“Bloody fax cartridges,” said she. “What do you want, then?”

“Gracious Lady,” said the young man politely, “I have travelled many leagues to seek you out. I find myself under a geis from which none but you can free me. That is, if it be true that you are the Fay known as Cobweb?”

The Fairy, for it was indeed she, blinked in surprise, firstly at being addressed as ‘gracious lady’, for she was neither, and secondly at the subjunctive.

“I’m her. She’s me,” she said helpfully. “But I didn’t think I had any appointments today. Probably means the system’s down again. Come in and we’ll check.” She hesitated, and wrinkled her nose as he approached. “On second thoughts, come this way.”

She led him through thickets of oak and ash and thorn to a place of running water and sparkling falls. Sitting on a rock was the spirit of the place, combing her wet green hair. The Fairy hailed her.

“Eau, Minerale, do something about this one, will you? Bring him back when he’s cleaner. Probably about Thursday.”

She began to walk away, and then returned to the water’s edge, where the Naiad and the youth were engaged in a struggle for his hose. “Oy, brat, what’s your name?”

The stripped stripling, blushing hotly, threw himself into the water, for he was modest. Also stupid. “The other pool’s deeper,” offered the Naiad helpfully, “and the hot spring is at the far end.”

“Nice legs,” interjected Cobweb, who knew about these things, peering down at the body prostrate in three inches of icy water, “and the rest will probably look more impressive when you aren’t so cold. Who did you say you were?”

“I am Luc,” he admitted sulkily.

“Luc what?”

“Luc à Rounde.”

“No. I don’t think so. You made that up. Try again.”

“Lucien,” he finally conceded.

“Lucien de what? Or rather, de where?”

“de Lurgan. For the moment. I’m looking for something better, when the property market settles.”

“Wise. O.K., I’ll go and check you on the system. Come back up to the house when you’re clean. Cleaner. And a fresh shirt would be a good idea, too. I’ll feed the horse.”

It was a tidier and more respectable Luc who presented himself at the cottage. Cobweb was peering into her magic mirror and muttering.

“They haven’t updated this properly. Does nobody do the paperwork except me? Silly question; of course they don’t. I think I may need to call another staff meeting and Make an Example of somebody. You aren’t on this. I haven’t got anything down for today at all. You’re on my list all right, but you aren’t coming up as deserving.”

The youth looked abashed. “I try to be deserving,” he offered, nervously.

“And you aren’t the only one. It plays Nymphs and Satyrs with the schedules. Why don’t you find someone else to deal with it? Why do I have to do everything?”

He didn’t have the faintest idea what she was talking about, but he allowed another clause to prevent a preposition at the end of a sentence.

“All right. Come outside. There isn’t room in here to swing a cat, not that I ever do. It’s too severe. Hang on, I can’t find... Oh, it’s O.K., I’ve got it. I must call Pommy for new supplies. Right. This is what I want you to do. Cross your feet, ankles together, and go a little pigeon toed so that you can lock both knees. You may need to lean forward slightly. Fine. Now, head right down, please. Either hold your ankles or link your hands behind your knees. Legs straight. Back straight. Lovely. Keep still.”

She wound a hand in the back of his shirt, and with some skill and panache (because she loved her work and took it very seriously) laid six parallel stripes across his rump with the limber switch that she had brought from the cottage. He squealed with outrage.

“What was that for?”

“I don’t know, but the paperwork will probably come through tomorrow. I’ll give you a receipt. Actually, you ought to know yourself. What did you do that made someone say you ought to see me?”

“I asked a woodgnome for directions.”

“Oh, did you indeed? You may have just had what he will turn out to be due. I’ll follow it up, and get them to issue a credit note. You’ll be allowed to carry it forward six months against the next time you have to see me. What did the Woodgnome say?”

“I told him that I was erranting to find a lady fair, and he looked me up and down and said, ‘No, I don’t think that would be a good idea; that isn’t what YOU want at all,’ and then he laughed a good deal, and said, ‘You need to see Cobweb, she seems to understand how the system works; tell her you’ve been allocated to the wrong team. Get her to do something about it.’ And then he said I was under a geis, and he smacked me too (and I don’t think it’s very fair), and gave me directions to you. Although he did give me some lunch.”

“How bloody like him. He hasn’t done any useful work for about two years. Just sits about writing poetry. Still, if he says you’re on the wrong team, we’d better have a look. He’s rarely wrong about that sort of thing.”

A short while later, the squire, still a little flushed, swung himself astride his horse, only to give a sharp yelp and throw himself off again. “I think I’ll walk for a bit,” he said breathlessly, rubbing the area that had come into contact with the saddle. “Thanks for the advice. Due west, you said, to the castle where the flag shows the device you showed me?”

“That’s it,” confirmed the Fairy, trying not to laugh. “Don’t lose the credit note. I shall watch your future career with some interest.”

She watched him out of sight and then said calmly, “You might as well come out; I know you’re here somewhere.”

A woodgnome sidled out from behind a tree.

“I presume you saw all of that?”

“Wouldn’t have missed it for anything,” he confirmed.

“Did you tell him he was under a geis?”

“No. I told him he was a goose. I’m not sure that he recognises all the words. He doesn’t know what he’s about.”

“You’re not wrong there! And he had certainly been put in the wrong team. He was supposed to be going to Wales after his lady fair.”

“Which lady?”

“Hand Grenade.”

The Woodgnome thought about this. “Angharad?”

“That’s what I said.”

“No, you said... never mind.”

“You might have given him a more sensible message. You know quite well that if they turn up out of the blue with no paperwork, I give them a standard six and carry forward any difference. You did it on purpose, didn’t you?”

“Yup. Got it in one.”

“Do you want a smack?”

“Oh yes, but not from you. Isn’t Briony back from leave yet?”

“Tomorrow. She’s being Brian all morning, so he could fit you in just before lunch if that suits?”

“I shouldn’t really...”

“He’s been hanging about with Hazel and Willow, and I believe they’ve had some new ideas about switches...” she tempted.

“Oh, go on then. Put me down for twelve at a quarter past. What did you do about the brat?”

“Come inside and I’ll call him up on the screen and we can watch. Do you want a drink? Yes? Boot up the mirror, then, and I’ll see what I can find.”

Cobweb, being mistress of Time and Space, or at least having a long term non-exclusive relationship with them, went to Reality and came back with a bottle. “It’s Rioja. Will that do?” Then she spoke a word of evil power, saying, “Oh bugger, Alfredo pinched my corkscrew last week. Violetta said she would get it back for me, but she isn't exactly reliable, and of course I haven’t been back to Traviata since.”

“Don’t bother. I’m a woodgnome, so I have a penknife, and because I’m a male woodgnome it’s covered with entirely pointless gadgets. There’s sure to be something one can use to open a bottle. Find something to drink out of. And I can’t get your mirror to work. It keeps showing me a screen saver of a man running with a red ball.”

“What, just one? Oh, sorry, that? That’s Jones the Pace. Welshman. I put in to the ECB to get him on my list a while ago after he was fined half his match fee  (in Reality) for unsporting behaviour, but they wouldn’t have it. Pity: I wouldn’t mind making him squirm. There you are, pour the wine. I’ll need to refocus this. It really needs a new godmotherboard, I keep getting pictures of thin Australian women doing aerobics. O.K., show us Luc de Lurgan. All right, please show us Luc de Lurgan. Today would be nice. He can’t have gone far.”

“Where did you send him, if he isn’t going to Angharad? Is he still going to Wales?”

“Yes. I thought he might do better with Sir Huw.”

The Woodgnome coughed into his Rioja. “Huw of the Main Rouge?”

“Is there another one?”

“You sent that innocent to Palmprint Huw?”


“You really are a bitch, aren’t you?”

“Well, Carabosse was home last night, and I had been writing stories, so there wasn’t anything to eat, and the laundry hasn’t returned his wings, and although I said I had been working he knew it wasn’t true because the abacus wasn’t out and he knows I don’t like doing seventeen and a half percent VAT in my head, although I can. At least I can do from net to gross as a percentage, but I can’t do seventeen and a half divided by one hundred and seventeen and a half from gross to tax. And he has Opinions about that sort of thing. So I was just in a mood to see that nobody else got off more lightly than I did, see?”

“Palmprint Huw?”

“Why not?”

The Woodgnome thought about it. “Because it isn’t kind?”

“I don’t do kind. Carabosse doesn’t do kind to me, and I don’t do it to anybody else. You know that. That’s why you hang about here. I do fun, and I think it will be.”

“Well, yes, I don’t deny it. I just wouldn’t have done it myself.”

“Oh, yes, you would. You’re just jealous because I thought of it first. Watch.”

And they watched the scene unfold in the magic mirror, and they saw...


Idris the Dragon

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